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My First Handheld


Kids are no different from Mom and Dad when it comes to scheduling. They need to juggle school assignments, play dates, and soccer practice. One thing that might help: a personal digital assistant (PDA) designed for the younger set. It's one of several back-to-school gadgets that we tested. Here's what we found.

iQuest ($59.99; leapfrog.com) is a terrific organizer with its easy-to-use date and address books. But its most impressive feature is a customized homework helper tied to over 250 math, social studies, and science textbooks for fifth to eighth graders. For that, you need to purchase a cartridge for each subject and grade ($14.99 each). You have a fifth-grader studying math? Your child can click on the name of his textbook from among the 25 listed, and iQuest will provide a series of multiple-choice questions on its easy-to-read screen. When stumped, kids can ask for hints to the correct answer or explanations when they are wrong.

Leapfrog's $49.99 Quantum Pad enlivens rote learning with games and other activities, aimed at the third- to fifth-grade set. In one game on European geography called "Hit the Road," a backpacker named Will asks the student to help him find which country his buddy Ed is in with clues he provides, such as "this country borders the Adriatic Sea."

The Quantum Pad, which resembles a small laptop, also has an audio component. When you click on a colorful map of a country, the device plays the nation's anthem. It comes with one activity book geared to grades three to five, but you can purchase additional books on subjects such as the human body or the solar system for $14.99 apiece.

Kids often have a hard time looking up words they can't spell. Speaking Homework Wiz from Franklin Electronic Publishers ($49.95; franklin.com) tries to provide a solution for kids as young as six. Students can type in a word phonetically, and this colorful handheld will display the proper spelling, speak the word, and provide a kid-friendly definition. But this feature isn't always up to snuff. When my first-grader Clare typed in "rows" for "rose," the device did not recognize the homonym. Nor did it guess that "nape" was supposed to be "nap." A third grader with a better grasp of spelling is likely to have more luck. Like many Franklin gadgets, this one comes with a "better grades or your money back" guarantee. But if it can't do a better job of figuring out what young kids are asking, parents may ask Franklin to make good on its promise. By Susan Scherreik


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